So, Stephen Harper keeps telling Canadians that they have two choices: it’s either give him a Conservative Majority government, or instead they’ll end up with a Coalition of Losers, which include socialists and separatists. In the past, Harper has avoided talking about majority government for his party, for fear that average Canadians might still harbour concerns about his hidden agenda. This election, he’s turned the tables on the Opposition Parties, so now “average Canadians” are in fear that Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton might become Deputy Prime Ministers in a second-rate Ignatieff-led parliament. Which would be bad for the economy, by the way.
But, what if Canadians don’t give Harper his (false) majority? What if, instead, we end up with a parliament very much like the one we have now? Harper says that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc would defeat a minority Conservative government at the first opportunity, and attempt to seize power by forming a coalition government. While acknowledging that the “rules” would allow the Opposition parties to do so, Harper labels such a government as being “illegitimate”. Others in his party have used the word “coup” to describe a process which is completely within keeping of our Westminister style of parliament.
Back in December of 2008, during the so-called Constitutional Crisis (which wasn’t a constitutional crisis at all), you may remember that Harper and other prominent Conservative MP’s, and conservative media pundits, were talking about the legalities and morality of a Liberal / NDP coalition government, supported by the Bloc Quebecois. To stave off a confidence vote, Harper decided to approach the Governor-General with a request to prorogue parliament. At that time, some of the discussion about the legitimacy of a coalition government of defeated parties began to turn into a discussion about whether the Governor-General had the authority to say No to the Prime Minister’s request to prorogue.
I recall hearing from a number of conservative thinkers that they believed the GG’s powers to say no to a Prime Ministerial request had been restricted over the years since King-Byng. Some believed that the GG must follow the advice of a Prime Minister, and essentially do as the PM pleased. Now, many other prominent thinkers held alternative views: that the GG’s decision was hers to make, and although it was incumbent upon the GG to listen to the PM’s advice, she did not have to follow it.
Yet, follow it she did, by agreeing to prorogue a parliament which was only days old, and in order to stave off of vote of non-confidence. Many at the time thought that the GG’s decision was pretty bizarre, given that there was a formal agreement in place between the Opposition parties which would have led to a more stable government than the current minority situation.
Of course, a question was put to John Baird, regarding what might happen if the GG refused to prorogue parliament. The answer given was that the Conservatives would go over her head. To the Queen? No, to the Canadian people.
Given that the Conservative Party was on record with their opinion that the Governor-General has to follow the advice offered by the Prime Minister when making a decision, and given that there remains hanging over all PM / GG dealings this threat about going over the head of the GG to the “Canadian people” (despite there not being any formal mechanism to do so), and given the 2008 prorogation precedent to avoid a confidence vote, and given that a new Governor-General appointed by Stephen Harper will now have to make decisions, could events in the near future play out like this?
And yes, this is only speculation on my part. But, I think it’s worth considering. What might happen if the Conservatives are returned with a minority government? Michael Ignatieff has gone on record saying that he won’t form a coalition, but is it maybe realistic to think that, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, as articulated in some form of agreement or accord (in line with the one which NDP Leader Bob Rae entered into with Liberal Premier David Peterson in 1985 to oust the PC’s under Frank Miller), Ignatieff might try to govern? Or perhaps Ignatieff might simply say that a Harper government is still a government with contempt for parliament, and as a result, a vote of non-confidence in the thrown speech is warranted. And given the change in circumstance, Ignatieff might very well say that he will form a coalition government with the NDP, supported by the Bloc.
With an Accord, or an informal agreement, or even if a coalition is back on the table, I believe that there is a very good possibility that the Opposition parties will get together in a bid to oust a Conservative minority government after this election, if one is returned. The fact of the matter would be that a minority government would still be composed of largely the same individuals who showed such contempt for parliament in the past that an argument could be made that Canadians deserve better. And of course, the results of the election will show that more Canadians didn’t vote for Conservatives than those that did. The Opposition would be in a position to indicate clearly to Canadians that they should be allowed to form government, given this result.
But to do so, they first must defeat the Conservatives on a matter of confidence, such as the throne speech. And to be a legitimate bid for power, it really must be the throne speech on which the defeat occurs, as it will be the very first matter of confidence before the House. Back in 2008, the Opposition parties did not try to defeat the new government on the throne speech, and as such, many Canadians were left wondering how it could be that the Opposition had confidence in the government one day, and a few days later, they lost confidence. Maybe it was the move to take away the per-vote subsidy in the budget after all.
This time, the Opposition can’t afford to make that mistake. If they’re in agreement that they will try to form government, they must defeat the Conservatives on the throne speech. And doing so will mean that the Conservatives will have little opportunity to prorogue.
So, the Opposition parties vote against the throne speech, and the Conservatives lose the confidence of the House. Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes a walk to his friend, the new Governor-General, whom Harper and the rest of the Conservative Party believe must follow the advice of the PM. Harper says that he’s lost the confidence of the House, and…
That he would like to go to the Canadian people for a new mandate to govern. That the Governor-General should immediately dissolve parliament and call the 42nd General Election.
Wait a moment, I can hear you say. Wouldn’t the GG turn to the Leader of the Opposition first, to find out whether he believed that a stable government could be formed? Well…I would agree that the GG has the ability to do so, and right now, media pundits who are debating coalitions and how Ignatieff might become PM even without winning the most seats in the house – they’re all saying that the GG could do this. In fact, it’s almost as if the media is assuming that the Governor-General would turn to the Leader of the Opposition to form government if the Conservatives lose a confidence motion. This would provide for a stable government, at least for a while, and avoid another costly election.
But why wouldn’t Stephen Harper and the Conservatives rather fight another election, immediately, after the “illegitimate” coalition once again tried to “seize power” from the victors of the election? With enough money in the bank to go all-out in a second election in three months, and with what is likely to be the weight of public opinion on their side, surely Harper isn’t going to go to the GG and request that the reigns of power be handed over to the Leader of the Coup, Ignatieff, and his deputies, Layton and Duceppe.
The only question I have is whether the GG will play ball with Harper. And I think that he just might, claiming that the will of Canadians needs to be respected, because the victors in the election aren’t being allowed to govern. Remember, the new GG has conservative baggage at the back of his closet. And recall that Conservatives have already advanced the argument that the GG is there to follow the advice of the PM, period, and not to think for himself. And, whether or not the GG believes that he has to follow the advice of the PM, certainly he might choose to do so himself anyway; there’s nothing which would require the GG to turn to the Leader of the Opposition.
This would all mean another election, starting likely in late May or early June. And it would almost certainly lead to the Conservative Majority government that Harper craves. Ignatieff’s credibility about a coalition would be shot, and the Opposition Parties would be vilified by the mainstream media and the electorate for trying to seize power from the winning party (despite having the constitutional ability to do so). Can you just imagine the level of rhetoric in such an election? Harper would tell Canadians that the coalition has needlessly plunged Canada into yet another economy-damaging election. Nevermind reality here folks; it’s the spin that will matter most.
Yes, this could very well be the route that Harper and the Conservatives get their Majority government. With the advantage of destroying the Liberal Party in the process.
You heard it here first.
(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)